not really, but i thought I’d get the attention of some of my nerd-theologian friends… (or used-to-be-friends…)
a few days ago I wrote about my understanding of theology (here). Wessel offered some helpful responses! one of the things i said in passing was that “Systematic Theology” may have adopted that adjective (systematic) at a very rationalistic period in history. in that sense we may need to critique the theological endeavour done in such an overly rationalistic context. But I’m sure that the word “systematic” doesn’t properly refer so much to the rational form of the Theology as it does to it’s overall coherence and consistency.
I was lying on the bed this afternoon, resting after a morning of preaching. I was thinking about my sermon of this morning, and wondering whether people realise that this morning’s sermon is for me just a piece of a larger puzzle. I work hard to ensure that the things I said this morning are consistent and compatible with the things I said last week and last year. I see myself slowly building a comprehensive picture of Life as God (in Jesus) calls me into it. I’m not saying you won’t be able to pick holes in my consistency. In fact, the most clear problem with this desire for consistency is when I realise I was wrong and have had to change my perspective or understanding… that means that things I said today may indeed be inconsistent with things I said last year - i would put that down to learning and growth…
But i wonder if some people go to church each week and expect a piece of something (pie?). one week they hear sermon on gratitude, the next on forgiveness. each sermon may be like a puzzle piece, but does it seem like the pieces are part of different puzzles or is it clear that each sermon is a part of a greater message that makes up a consistent and coherent whole?
what’s my concern? one example… a colleague serving a (racially) uniting congregation in the United States of America recently wrote about a question of theological consistency that he encountered in that context. he asks: why is it that the very same people who oppose abortion - using the argument that the Bible teaches all life is sacred - are the very same people who support and even advocate FOR the death penalty?
in this sense, seeking out a systematic theology - a theology (talk about God) that hangs together and has a general consistency and coherence - is certainly something I would support. Actually, more than support - every sermon, week after week, is my piece-by-piece contribution to a “systematic theology”. I really do think that my sermons will best be grasped in that light!
p.s. 2 obvious consequences of that then:
- to really “get” my sermons, one would need to listen regularly, in order to see the bigger picture that all the puzzle pieces are part of… (and obviously that picture is not my own, but very hopefully the gospel picture!) The point is that my sermons are not primarily “single episodes” teaching moral lessons - get one when you need a boost kind of devotional messages. rather, they are a slow journey toward a new way of seeing, feeling, touching, being…
- this kind of approach to listening and participating in “God-talk” means that it is primarily done in the context of regular worship - and a regular worshipping community. going to church is not so much about pleasing God but rather an active participation in a learning, growing, expanding, seeing community! (which i’m sure pleases God!)